Lebanese culture is the by-product of the ethnic and religious diversity of its population influenced by the conquerors. Some of these would be the Romans, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks and most recently, the French. Due to the latter, Beirut earned the nickname “the Paris of the Middle East” before returning back to the Arabs. All of this cultural history has had an influence on, among other things, the traditional costumes of Lebanon. However, in modern Beirut, most of Lebanese wear stylish Western clothing. On the other hand, their rural counterparts wear the more traditional Lebanese costumes. This brings us to the subject of today’s article.
Traditional clothing is rather different between the urban and rural areas of Lebanon and especially among women’s clothing. However, there is one common feature of the traditional Lebanese female’s clothing. Whether they are city and village dwellers, most Lebanese women try to cover most of their bodies, including the head. Women wear long, black cloaks and cover their faces with veils when they leave their houses. This is not just an Islamic thing. Muslim women, who usually also wear hijab, Christian women alike wear cloaks, scarves, and veils to cover their bodies. It is also common for Lebanese females to take their headscarves off when there are no men nearby which can be quickly brought up over the head and put back into place should any strange man happen upon them.
Regardless of where they come from or their social status, the traditional costume common forall Lebanese women is a long dress with long sleeves, a short, satin, silk or cotton jacket, with minimal embroidery and appliqué, a cloak or scarf to cover the head and body, and occasionally, baggy trousers. The difference between the rural and urban style is usually the amount of decoration. Women from rural areas usually prefer simpler costumes with few decorations. Most Lebanese women prefer these costumes to have long, richly embroidered and embellished that could detach and be reattached as needed. As a result, these sleeves can be bought separately from dresses. Sometimes, the sleeves are even tied back so as not to soil them during eating at a wedding or other special occasion; however, when Lebanese women dance at these events, they let the sleeves fly and flutter about.
The gambaz is another traditional ornamental dress. It is from expensive materials such as velvet, brocade and shiny silk. The gambaz often has a low neckline and most often married women wear it because the bosom symbolizes motherhood. Before it had long, loose sleeves as well, but today the sleeves are fitted to the lady’s arms. Additionally, the skirt may be loose panels or it may also have side slits that reveal a dress underneath.
On top of all of this is the tantur. It is the classic Lebanese headdress newlywed women wear. It’s a very high cone shape and long piece of silk or silk brocade cloth attached to the top of it that flows about midway down the back.
Moving from the head to the toes, Lebanese women have traditionally worn the wooden and usually shaped shoes known as kabkabs since the 14th century. The more ornate belonged to wealthy females. They decorated them with intricate patterns and carvings and mother of pearl. The upper parts of the shoes are of leather, velvet or silk.
Other accessories include these huge belts with even huger belt buckles that women wore in and around the cities of Lebanon. These belts and buckles were also lavishly embellished with colorful glass, gems, pearls, and other precious and semi-precious jewels. Often you could find that the hugest, most beautiful belts at weddings as part of the bride’s wedding outfit. Also, Lebanese women love jewelry and wear a lot of it. Gold and silver necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, tiaras, you name it. The amount of jewelry women wear at once was often an indicator of how wealthy or how much their husbands love them.
The national costume of Lebanese males usually is of multi-layered baggy trousers (sherwal), a shirt, a vest, jacket or cloak, a belt, a headdress, and shoes. These clothes display dark colors and stripes. However, the festive costumes are usually more bright in colors
Everyday clothing traditionally consists of black or blue sherwals, a white shirt, a dark vest, a black or red belt, shoes, and a headgear all of which can still be seen in rural areas. As they are very cool and comfortable Lebanese men are in no hurry to get rid of these traditional clothes.
Festive male costumes in Lebanon are bright and ornate. Jackets and vests are decorated with embroidery, atlas ribbons, and metal embellishments. Additionally, it’s usually made from different fabrics than their everyday clothes, but the cut of a costume remains the same.
As mentioned before, the Lebanese are very multicultural and so are their costumes. For instance, the Druze men of Lebanon used to wear short-sleeved shirt and long coats that fell to their knees. Likewise, the jubbe – a hip length jacket with no fastenings – was most common among the Bedouin community of Lebanon.
There are several traditional headdresses men wear. The most popular of which is the keffiya, a headscarf used in many countries of the Arab world. Some Lebanese men also wear the labbade, an old cap from the Phoenician period. However, the tarboush, the traditional short, cone-shaped, brown felt hat (also a fez elsewhere in the world), replaced the labbade. Today, mostly the oldest men use it while younger Lebanese wear keffiya instead.
As you can see, the traditional values and culture of this country are amazing. Even if many people of Lebanon have forsaken their traditional costumes for those of more modern designs and styles, you can still find people wearing the traditional clothing of Lebanon at festivals, ceremonies, and folk performances.
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